According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 59 children in the U.S. are on the autism spectrum. Two years earlier, that statistic was at 1 in 88 children.

Despite autism spectrum disorder touching so many families, a large percentage of people don’t realize they’ve likely interacted with people with special needs. And when you consider the increasing number of individuals with autism, it is likely everyone has encountered someone on the spectrum at one time or another.

April marks Autism Awareness Month, an opportunity to raise understanding about autism, beyond the statistics. It is about real people; children, adults and families affected. As a community, it’s important to take time to pause and learn more about this integral part of our population. Inclusion is important for everyone, and individuals with autism should not be left out.

At Catapult Learning, we serve students in grades PreK-12th grade with autism spectrum exceptionalities, specific learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, and more. It is common to find defined splinter skills in children and adolescents with autism, as well as a large gap between receptive and expressive language skills, which can hinder social abilities and lead to maladaptive behaviors. Every day, we are working to bridge that gap and help our students grow into well-adapted adults. In fact, our greatest measure of success is when parents and guardians tell us how amazed they are at how well their child is doing in situations and interactions with other members of the community.

At the same time we are preparing our students, we also take measures to raise autism awareness in the community year-round. While our students walk around the community visiting local businesses, they introduce themselves to people and talk a little bit about autism with everyone they meet. This gives people the opportunity to interact with and learn more about a part of our community that maybe they don’t know much or might even have preconceived notions about. This is not only wonderful for our students as they develop critical skills; it is great for building a stronger community.

People sometimes do not see all the ways our students can contribute. Autism Awareness Month is a time to shed light on their abilities, and how we, as a community, can embrace and include them. His or her inclusion is beneficial for everyone.